French Bee will soon take delivery of an A350 with 488 seats, which will be the world’s most efficient long haul plane. I’m undecided as to whether this is an incredible feat, or just sounds plain awful.
French Bee A350-1000 will feature 488 seats
French Bee is a low cost long haul airline that commenced operations in 2016. The airline has historically operated flights from Paris Orly to Tahiti (via San Francisco) and Reunion, and in the coming months the airline is supposed to launch a Paris to Newark flight as well.
French Bee routes
French Bee currently operates a fleet of four A350-900s. Later this year the carrier’s fleet will grow, as it will take delivery of two additional A350s. However, the last two A350s will be the larger version of the plane, which is the A350-1000.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this is just how many seats the plane will have. French Bee’s A350-1000 will feature a total of 488 seats, including 40 premium economy seats and 448 economy seats.
To be clear, this isn’t really disproportionate to French Bee’s current A350-900s, which feature 411 seats, including 35 premium economy seats and 376 economy seats. Rather it’s just the sheer number of seats we’re talking about that’s remarkable here.
French Bee A350 premium economy
Just to compare this to some other airlines operating the A350-1000:
- Air Caraibes A350-1000s feature 429 seats in a three cabin layout (business, premium economy, and economy), which is otherwise the world’s highest density A350
- Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000s feature 334 seats in a three cabin layout (business, premium economy, and economy)
- Qatar Airways’ A350-1000s feature 327 seats in a two cabin layout (business and economy)
French Bee A350 economy
French Bee’s A350-1000 will likely be the world’s lowest cost long haul aircraft in terms of per-seat operating costs. The A350 is incredibly fuel efficient to begin with, and then on top of that no airline has installed as many seats on a twin-engine long haul aircraft (All Nippon Airways has 514 seats on its 777-300s, but those are specifically used for short haul domestic flights).
Just to put this into context, Virgin Atlantic used to operate a 747-400 in a leisure configuration with just 14 business class seats, and those featured “just” 455 total seats. And the economics of the 747-400 are much worse than those of the A350-1000.
Does a plane this dense make sense?
I’m fascinated by French Bee’s A350-1000, and have a few conflicting thoughts here. Historically the long haul, low cost airline business model simply doesn’t work… just ask Norwegian. So could this be any different?
- French Bee’s configuration is materially more efficient than what we’ve seen from other long haul airlines, and the per-seat operating costs here must be wildly low; for example, these planes will feature 150 more seats than Norwegian’s 787-9s did
- At the same time, this efficiency is only worth anything if the airline can consistently fill those seats
- The question becomes how often French Bee can actually sell nearly all 488 of those seats; the airline does have the benefit of operating in markets with different seasons, but I still just don’t see this working all that well in winter (due to lack of school breaks, etc.)
- While many passengers are willing to sacrifice comfort to save money, French Bee operates some ridiculously long flights, like the nearly 24 hour journey from Paris to Tahiti; are passengers willing to subject themselves to that (including 10-abreast seating) if the price is right?
- Unless the airline can consistently fill those seats, it would make more sense for the airline to offer different types of seating products so that the airline can get more revenue per passenger; for example, the airline could also offer flat beds, and that would make a whole new crowd interested in flying the airline
To me this is going to be a very interesting plane to watch.
French Bee’s upcoming A350-1000s should be the world’s most efficient long haul aircraft in terms of per-seat operating costs. While that sounds great in theory, one has to wonder if they’ll be able to achieve load factors that make this worthwhile. Comfort aside, boarding a non-double decker with 487 other passengers just doesn’t sound fun, and that says nothing of the inflight experience.
What do you make of French Bee’s A350-1000 — brilliant or awful?